Great minds don’t think alike

From an Ancient Greek computer to a new type of lizard – UCL’s 11 faculties share their latest discoveries

A persons hand demonstrating the robotic Third Thumb. They have it strapped to their hand and it is helping to hold a pot of bubbles which are being blown into the air

This article first appeared in issue 8 of Portico magazine, published November 2021.

Thumbs up

Researchers from the UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences have discovered that using a robotic extra thumb can influence how the hand is represented in the brain. Designer Dani Clode began developing the Third Thumb as part of her graduate project at the Royal College of Art. She was later invited to join Professor Tamar Makin (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) and her team, who were investigating how the brain can adapt to body augmentation.

The 3D-printed Third Thumb is controlled using pressure sensors attached to the feet. In the study, 20 participants were trained to use the device, focusing on tasks that helped increase the cooperation between hand and Thumb, such as picking up multiple balls. The training enabled them to improve their motor control, dexterity and coordination, and wearers reported that the Thumb increasingly felt like part of their body.

Body augmentation such as this could revolutionise the concept of prosthetics and life for those who use them.
Find out more about the robotic Third Thumb

Downgraded

A report published by Professor John Jerrim (UCL Social Research Institute, part of UCL Institute of Education) has exposed serious flaws in education data used by the UK government. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data tests 15-year-olds in reading, science and mathematics in around 80 countries. PISA results have consistently driven changes to schooling systems across the globe. PISA has also become the main resource used to compare outcomes across the UK’s devolved nations, making it the only cross-national assessment measured on a regular basis.

Professor Jerrim has raised concerns about the 2018 edition data for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, including lower-achieving children being excluded from the study, schools being unwilling to participate, and pupils not showing up for the test. “The Office for Statistics Regulation [should] conduct an independent review of the UK’s PISA data,” he says. “Clear guidelines need to be put in place to ensure more transparent reporting in the future.”
Read more about the report

This article first appeared in issue 8 of Portico magazine, published November 2021.

Thumbs up

Researchers from the UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences have discovered that using a robotic extra thumb can influence how the hand is represented in the brain. Designer Dani Clode began developing the Third Thumb as part of her graduate project at the Royal College of Art. She was later invited to join Professor Tamar Makin (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) and her team, who were investigating how the brain can adapt to body augmentation.

The 3D-printed Third Thumb is controlled using pressure sensors attached to the feet. In the study, 20 participants were trained to use the device, focusing on tasks that helped increase the cooperation between hand and Thumb, such as picking up multiple balls. The training enabled them to improve their motor control, dexterity and coordination, and wearers reported that the Thumb increasingly felt like part of their body.

Body augmentation such as this could revolutionise the concept of prosthetics and life for those who use them.
Find out more about the robotic Third Thumb

Downgraded

A report published by Professor John Jerrim (UCL Social Research Institute, part of UCL Institute of Education) has exposed serious flaws in education data used by the UK government. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data tests 15-year-olds in reading, science and mathematics in around 80 countries. PISA results have consistently driven changes to schooling systems across the globe. PISA has also become the main resource used to compare outcomes across the UK’s devolved nations, making it the only cross-national assessment measured on a regular basis.

Professor Jerrim has raised concerns about the 2018 edition data for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, including lower-achieving children being excluded from the study, schools being unwilling to participate, and pupils not showing up for the test. “The Office for Statistics Regulation [should] conduct an independent review of the UK’s PISA data,” he says. “Clear guidelines need to be put in place to ensure more transparent reporting in the future.”
Read more about the report

This article first appeared in issue 8 of Portico magazine, published November 2021.

Thumbs up

Researchers from the UCL Faculty of Brain Sciences have discovered that using a robotic extra thumb can influence how the hand is represented in the brain. Designer Dani Clode began developing the Third Thumb as part of her graduate project at the Royal College of Art. She was later invited to join Professor Tamar Makin (UCL Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience) and her team, who were investigating how the brain can adapt to body augmentation.

The 3D-printed Third Thumb is controlled using pressure sensors attached to the feet. In the study, 20 participants were trained to use the device, focusing on tasks that helped increase the cooperation between hand and Thumb, such as picking up multiple balls. The training enabled them to improve their motor control, dexterity and coordination, and wearers reported that the Thumb increasingly felt like part of their body.

Body augmentation such as this could revolutionise the concept of prosthetics and life for those who use them.
Find out more about the robotic Third Thumb

Downgraded

A report published by Professor John Jerrim (UCL Social Research Institute, part of UCL Institute of Education) has exposed serious flaws in education data used by the UK government. The OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) data tests 15-year-olds in reading, science and mathematics in around 80 countries. PISA results have consistently driven changes to schooling systems across the globe. PISA has also become the main resource used to compare outcomes across the UK’s devolved nations, making it the only cross-national assessment measured on a regular basis.

Professor Jerrim has raised concerns about the 2018 edition data for England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, including lower-achieving children being excluded from the study, schools being unwilling to participate, and pupils not showing up for the test. “The Office for Statistics Regulation [should] conduct an independent review of the UK’s PISA data,” he says. “Clear guidelines need to be put in place to ensure more transparent reporting in the future.”
Read more about the report

Dark Matter 825X450

Dark matter

The largest-ever map of dark matter has been created by a team co-led by UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences researchers, as part of the international Dark Energy Survey (DES). As matter curves space-time, astronomers are able to map its existence by looking at light travelling to Earth from distant galaxies; if the light has been distorted, this means there is matter in the foreground, bending the light as it comes towards us. The team used artificial intelligence methods to analyse images of 100 million galaxies, looking at their shape – spots of light made up of around 10 pixels – to see if they have been stretched. The new map, which covers a quarter of the sky of the Southern Hemisphere, will help us understand what the universe is made of and how it has evolved.
Discover the dark matter map 

Street life

An interactive map, co-developed by experts from The Bartlett School of Architecture, is helping Londoners understand how healthy their area is. The Healthy Streets Index rates every street in the capital using data on factors known to have the biggest impacts on our wellbeing, from traffic dominance and access to services to air and noise pollution. UCL’s lead, Dr Ashley Dhanani, explains, “The index enables us to make informed decisions about where we want to live, the routes we take on everyday journeys and where improvements are needed, to ensure everyone can live in the healthiest environments possible.”
Explore the interactive map

Dark matter

The largest-ever map of dark matter has been created by a team co-led by UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences researchers, as part of the international Dark Energy Survey (DES). As matter curves space-time, astronomers are able to map its existence by looking at light travelling to Earth from distant galaxies; if the light has been distorted, this means there is matter in the foreground, bending the light as it comes towards us. The team used artificial intelligence methods to analyse images of 100 million galaxies, looking at their shape – spots of light made up of around 10 pixels – to see if they have been stretched. The new map, which covers a quarter of the sky of the Southern Hemisphere, will help us understand what the universe is made of and how it has evolved.
Discover the dark matter map 

Street life

An interactive map, co-developed by experts from The Bartlett School of Architecture, is helping Londoners understand how healthy their area is. The Healthy Streets Index rates every street in the capital using data on factors known to have the biggest impacts on our wellbeing, from traffic dominance and access to services to air and noise pollution. UCL’s lead, Dr Ashley Dhanani, explains, “The index enables us to make informed decisions about where we want to live, the routes we take on everyday journeys and where improvements are needed, to ensure everyone can live in the healthiest environments possible.”
Explore the interactive map

Dark matter

The largest-ever map of dark matter has been created by a team co-led by UCL Mathematical & Physical Sciences researchers, as part of the international Dark Energy Survey (DES). As matter curves space-time, astronomers are able to map its existence by looking at light travelling to Earth from distant galaxies; if the light has been distorted, this means there is matter in the foreground, bending the light as it comes towards us. The team used artificial intelligence methods to analyse images of 100 million galaxies, looking at their shape – spots of light made up of around 10 pixels – to see if they have been stretched. The new map, which covers a quarter of the sky of the Southern Hemisphere, will help us understand what the universe is made of and how it has evolved.
Discover the dark matter map 

Street life

An interactive map, co-developed by experts from The Bartlett School of Architecture, is helping Londoners understand how healthy their area is. The Healthy Streets Index rates every street in the capital using data on factors known to have the biggest impacts on our wellbeing, from traffic dominance and access to services to air and noise pollution. UCL’s lead, Dr Ashley Dhanani, explains, “The index enables us to make informed decisions about where we want to live, the routes we take on everyday journeys and where improvements are needed, to ensure everyone can live in the healthiest environments possible.”
Explore the interactive map

Is it a bird?

This 99-million-year-old amber fossil has helped an international research team involving experts from the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences to describe a new species – and provided further evidence that an animal first identified as a hummingbird-sized dinosaur was actually a lizard.

Is it a bird?

This 99-million-year-old amber fossil has helped an international research team involving experts from the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences to describe a new species – and provided further evidence that an animal first identified as a hummingbird-sized dinosaur was actually a lizard.

Is it a bird?

This 99-million-year-old amber fossil has helped an international research team involving experts from the UCL Faculty of Life Sciences to describe a new species – and provided further evidence that an animal first identified as a hummingbird-sized dinosaur was actually a lizard.

A 99-million-year-old amber fossil

The team used CT scans to separate, analyse and compare each bone in the fossil digitally, uncovering characteristics that earmark the small animal as an unusual lizard. The Cretaceous Period, 145.5 to 66 million years ago, gave rise to many of the lizard and snake groups on the planet today, but tracing fossils from this era to their closest living relatives can be difficult. The new species is named Oculudentavis naga, in honour of the Naga people of India and Myanmar, where the fossil was found and legally purchased in 2017.
Learn more about the lizard

Forward thinking

Research by Dr Tim Causer (UCL Faculty of Laws) on Jeremy Bentham’s wills shows that UCL’s spiritual founder had the idea to leave his remains to medical science long before his death. “It’s clear that Bentham had, from at least the age of 21, thought about how he might benefit humankind after his death by donating his body to science for dissection,” Dr Causer explains. “We can trace a line of thought from his first will of 1769, to his last will and testament made a few days before his death in 1832. Bentham first mentioned in writing what was to become the Auto-Icon in an 1824 codicil to his last will, and so the Auto-Icon wasn’t the last strange whim of an old man, but something he had thought seriously about for some time. It was a physical manifestation of his radical philosophy and generosity of spirit, as well as being an act of great courage.”
Find out more about Bentham's wills

The team used CT scans to separate, analyse and compare each bone in the fossil digitally, uncovering characteristics that earmark the small animal as an unusual lizard. The Cretaceous Period, 145.5 to 66 million years ago, gave rise to many of the lizard and snake groups on the planet today, but tracing fossils from this era to their closest living relatives can be difficult. The new species is named Oculudentavis naga, in honour of the Naga people of India and Myanmar, where the fossil was found and legally purchased in 2017.
Learn more about the lizard

Forward thinking

Research by Dr Tim Causer (UCL Faculty of Laws) on Jeremy Bentham’s wills shows that UCL’s spiritual founder had the idea to leave his remains to medical science long before his death. “It’s clear that Bentham had, from at least the age of 21, thought about how he might benefit humankind after his death by donating his body to science for dissection,” Dr Causer explains. “We can trace a line of thought from his first will of 1769, to his last will and testament made a few days before his death in 1832. Bentham first mentioned in writing what was to become the Auto-Icon in an 1824 codicil to his last will, and so the Auto-Icon wasn’t the last strange whim of an old man, but something he had thought seriously about for some time. It was a physical manifestation of his radical philosophy and generosity of spirit, as well as being an act of great courage.”
Find out more about Bentham's wills

The team used CT scans to separate, analyse and compare each bone in the fossil digitally, uncovering characteristics that earmark the small animal as an unusual lizard. The Cretaceous Period, 145.5 to 66 million years ago, gave rise to many of the lizard and snake groups on the planet today, but tracing fossils from this era to their closest living relatives can be difficult. The new species is named Oculudentavis naga, in honour of the Naga people of India and Myanmar, where the fossil was found and legally purchased in 2017.
Learn more about the lizard

Forward thinking

Research by Dr Tim Causer (UCL Faculty of Laws) on Jeremy Bentham’s wills shows that UCL’s spiritual founder had the idea to leave his remains to medical science long before his death. “It’s clear that Bentham had, from at least the age of 21, thought about how he might benefit humankind after his death by donating his body to science for dissection,” Dr Causer explains. “We can trace a line of thought from his first will of 1769, to his last will and testament made a few days before his death in 1832. Bentham first mentioned in writing what was to become the Auto-Icon in an 1824 codicil to his last will, and so the Auto-Icon wasn’t the last strange whim of an old man, but something he had thought seriously about for some time. It was a physical manifestation of his radical philosophy and generosity of spirit, as well as being an act of great courage.”
Find out more about Bentham's wills

In Treatment 825X450

In treatment

People with hereditary transthyretin amyloidosis have a mutation in the transthyretin gene, which means they produce an abnormal protein that gradually builds up in the heart and nerves. Symptoms include numbness in the hands and feet, loss of control of the bowel and bladder, and immobility. The condition gets progressively worse and is ultimately fatal.

A trial led by Professor Julian Gillmore, of the UCL National Amyloidosis Centre, is using an investigational therapy that ‘edits’ the harmful gene. Patients on the trial receive, via a one-off infusion, a molecule known as CRISPR/Cas9, which inactivates this gene within the liver cells. In the first six patients, production of the harmful protein was reduced by up to 96% by day 28 following treatment.
Discover more about gene editing

In treatment

People with hereditary transthyretin amyloidosis have a mutation in the transthyretin gene, which means they produce an abnormal protein that gradually builds up in the heart and nerves. Symptoms include numbness in the hands and feet, loss of control of the bowel and bladder, and immobility. The condition gets progressively worse and is ultimately fatal.

A trial led by Professor Julian Gillmore, of the UCL National Amyloidosis Centre, is using an investigational therapy that ‘edits’ the harmful gene. Patients on the trial receive, via a one-off infusion, a molecule known as CRISPR/Cas9, which inactivates this gene within the liver cells. In the first six patients, production of the harmful protein was reduced by up to 96% by day 28 following treatment.
Discover more about gene editing

In treatment

People with hereditary transthyretin amyloidosis have a mutation in the transthyretin gene, which means they produce an abnormal protein that gradually builds up in the heart and nerves. Symptoms include numbness in the hands and feet, loss of control of the bowel and bladder, and immobility. The condition gets progressively worse and is ultimately fatal.

A trial led by Professor Julian Gillmore, of the UCL National Amyloidosis Centre, is using an investigational therapy that ‘edits’ the harmful gene. Patients on the trial receive, via a one-off infusion, a molecule known as CRISPR/Cas9, which inactivates this gene within the liver cells. In the first six patients, production of the harmful protein was reduced by up to 96% by day 28 following treatment.
Discover more about gene editing

A surgen in a hospital operating theatre

Know the score

A risk-stratification tool that can accurately predict the likelihood of deterioration in adults hospitalised with Covid-19 has been developed by researchers from the UCL Faculty of Population Health Sciences, in collaboration with the UK Coronavirus Clinical Characterisation Consortium (ISARIC4C). The online tool, made freely available to NHS doctors in January 2021, could support clinicians’ decision-making – helping to improve patient outcomes and ultimately save lives.

Know the score

A risk-stratification tool that can accurately predict the likelihood of deterioration in adults hospitalised with Covid-19 has been developed by researchers from the UCL Faculty of Population Health Sciences, in collaboration with the UK Coronavirus Clinical Characterisation Consortium (ISARIC4C). The online tool, made freely available to NHS doctors in January 2021, could support clinicians’ decision-making – helping to improve patient outcomes and ultimately save lives.

Know the score

A risk-stratification tool that can accurately predict the likelihood of deterioration in adults hospitalised with Covid-19 has been developed by researchers from the UCL Faculty of Population Health Sciences, in collaboration with the UK Coronavirus Clinical Characterisation Consortium (ISARIC4C). The online tool, made freely available to NHS doctors in January 2021, could support clinicians’ decision-making – helping to improve patient outcomes and ultimately save lives.

The tool assesses 11 statistics routinely collected from patients, including age, gender and physical measurements, along with some standard laboratory tests, and calculates a percentage risk of deterioration, known as the ‘4C Deterioration Score’. Co-senior and corresponding author Professor Mahdad Noursadeghi (UCL Division of Infection and Immunity) says, “The addition of the new 4C Deterioration Score alongside the 4C Mortality Score will provide clinicians with an evidence-based measure to identify those who will need increased hospital support during their admission, even if they have a low risk of death.”
Find out more about the Covid-19 online tool

Paint it brown

While studying for a PhD at the Slade School of Fine Art, Onya McCausland had the idea of turning recycled coal-mine sludge into paint. Having visited mine sites across former British coalfield locations in South Wales, Scotland, Lancashire and Yorkshire, Onya saw the potential to develop this ochre by-product of coal production into pigment. The result is two emulsion paints, Six Bells Red and Burnt Ochre. She also created paintings called ‘Colour from the Mines’.

The project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Slade, as well as receiving Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) Knowledge Exchange funding, managed by UCL Innovation & Enterprise, which also provided guidance and advice. This support enabled the commercialisation of the paints and engagement of local communities to bring the initiative to life.
Learn more about the paint project

The tool assesses 11 statistics routinely collected from patients, including age, gender and physical measurements, along with some standard laboratory tests, and calculates a percentage risk of deterioration, known as the ‘4C Deterioration Score’. Co-senior and corresponding author Professor Mahdad Noursadeghi (UCL Division of Infection and Immunity) says, “The addition of the new 4C Deterioration Score alongside the 4C Mortality Score will provide clinicians with an evidence-based measure to identify those who will need increased hospital support during their admission, even if they have a low risk of death.”
Find out more about the Covid-19 online tool

Paint it brown

While studying for a PhD at the Slade School of Fine Art, Onya McCausland had the idea of turning recycled coal-mine sludge into paint. Having visited mine sites across former British coalfield locations in South Wales, Scotland, Lancashire and Yorkshire, Onya saw the potential to develop this ochre by-product of coal production into pigment. The result is two emulsion paints, Six Bells Red and Burnt Ochre. She also created paintings called ‘Colour from the Mines’.

The project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Slade, as well as receiving Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) Knowledge Exchange funding, managed by UCL Innovation & Enterprise, which also provided guidance and advice. This support enabled the commercialisation of the paints and engagement of local communities to bring the initiative to life.
Learn more about the paint project

The tool assesses 11 statistics routinely collected from patients, including age, gender and physical measurements, along with some standard laboratory tests, and calculates a percentage risk of deterioration, known as the ‘4C Deterioration Score’. Co-senior and corresponding author Professor Mahdad Noursadeghi (UCL Division of Infection and Immunity) says, “The addition of the new 4C Deterioration Score alongside the 4C Mortality Score will provide clinicians with an evidence-based measure to identify those who will need increased hospital support during their admission, even if they have a low risk of death.”
Find out more about the Covid-19 online tool

Paint it brown

While studying for a PhD at the Slade School of Fine Art, Onya McCausland had the idea of turning recycled coal-mine sludge into paint. Having visited mine sites across former British coalfield locations in South Wales, Scotland, Lancashire and Yorkshire, Onya saw the potential to develop this ochre by-product of coal production into pigment. The result is two emulsion paints, Six Bells Red and Burnt Ochre. She also created paintings called ‘Colour from the Mines’.

The project was funded by the Leverhulme Trust and the Slade, as well as receiving Higher Education Innovation Fund (HEIF) Knowledge Exchange funding, managed by UCL Innovation & Enterprise, which also provided guidance and advice. This support enabled the commercialisation of the paints and engagement of local communities to bring the initiative to life.
Learn more about the paint project

Canterbury Cathedral’s stained glass

On reflection

Analysis of a group of glass panels from Canterbury Cathedral suggests that they may be the oldest remaining stained-glass windows in England. A UCL research team analysed the windows using an in-situ method of chemical analysis known as portable X-ray fluorescence (PXRF), in an approach developed for the purpose by Dr Laura Ware Adlington, who was then a PhD student at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. The study also involved the first use of a specially designed attachment for the spectrometer, a window analyser or ‘windolyser’, which was 3D-printed at the UCL Institute of Making. This enabled accurate, non-destructive analysis of the glass, which is now believed to date from the period 1130–1160.
Read more about Canterbury Cathedral’s stained glass

On reflection

Analysis of a group of glass panels from Canterbury Cathedral suggests that they may be the oldest remaining stained-glass windows in England. A UCL research team analysed the windows using an in-situ method of chemical analysis known as portable X-ray fluorescence (PXRF), in an approach developed for the purpose by Dr Laura Ware Adlington, who was then a PhD student at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. The study also involved the first use of a specially designed attachment for the spectrometer, a window analyser or ‘windolyser’, which was 3D-printed at the UCL Institute of Making. This enabled accurate, non-destructive analysis of the glass, which is now believed to date from the period 1130–1160.
Read more about Canterbury Cathedral’s stained glass

On reflection

Analysis of a group of glass panels from Canterbury Cathedral suggests that they may be the oldest remaining stained-glass windows in England. A UCL research team analysed the windows using an in-situ method of chemical analysis known as portable X-ray fluorescence (PXRF), in an approach developed for the purpose by Dr Laura Ware Adlington, who was then a PhD student at the UCL Institute of Archaeology. The study also involved the first use of a specially designed attachment for the spectrometer, a window analyser or ‘windolyser’, which was 3D-printed at the UCL Institute of Making. This enabled accurate, non-destructive analysis of the glass, which is now believed to date from the period 1130–1160.
Read more about Canterbury Cathedral’s stained glass

Time piece

UCL Engineering researchers have solved a major piece of the puzzle that makes up the ancient Greek astronomical calculator known as the Antikythera Mechanism. A 2,000-year-old mechanical device considered to be the world’s first analogue computer, it was used to predict the positions of the Sun, Moon and the planets, as well as eclipses. X-ray data from 2005 revealed thousands of text characters hidden inside the fragments, unread for nearly 2,000 years. Inscriptions on the back cover included a description of the cosmos display, with the planets moving on rings and indicated by marker beads. It was this display that the team worked to reconstruct to better understand the capabilities of the device and the accuracy of its astronomical predictions.
Learn more about how experts recreated a mechanical Cosmos

 

Photography Alamy Science Photo Library, Getty Images, Stocksy, Alamy

This article first appeared in issue 8 of Portico magazine, published November 2021.

 

Time piece

UCL Engineering researchers have solved a major piece of the puzzle that makes up the ancient Greek astronomical calculator known as the Antikythera Mechanism. A 2,000-year-old mechanical device considered to be the world’s first analogue computer, it was used to predict the positions of the Sun, Moon and the planets, as well as eclipses. X-ray data from 2005 revealed thousands of text characters hidden inside the fragments, unread for nearly 2,000 years. Inscriptions on the back cover included a description of the cosmos display, with the planets moving on rings and indicated by marker beads. It was this display that the team worked to reconstruct to better understand the capabilities of the device and the accuracy of its astronomical predictions.
Learn more about how experts recreated a mechanical Cosmos

 

Photography Alamy Science Photo Library, Getty Images, Stocksy, Alamy

This article first appeared in issue 8 of Portico magazine, published November 2021.

 

Time piece

UCL Engineering researchers have solved a major piece of the puzzle that makes up the ancient Greek astronomical calculator known as the Antikythera Mechanism. A 2,000-year-old mechanical device considered to be the world’s first analogue computer, it was used to predict the positions of the Sun, Moon and the planets, as well as eclipses. X-ray data from 2005 revealed thousands of text characters hidden inside the fragments, unread for nearly 2,000 years. Inscriptions on the back cover included a description of the cosmos display, with the planets moving on rings and indicated by marker beads. It was this display that the team worked to reconstruct to better understand the capabilities of the device and the accuracy of its astronomical predictions.
Learn more about how experts recreated a mechanical Cosmos

 

Photography Alamy Science Photo Library, Getty Images, Stocksy, Alamy

This article first appeared in issue 8 of Portico magazine, published November 2021.